Thursday, February 12, 2009

Meet Barack Obama's new Drug Czar

For those looking to read tea leaves regarding the Obama Administration's likely approach to drug policy, meet his just-appointed drug czar, Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske. According to the Seattle Political Intelligencer:
Many local people expected that Kerlikowske would be chosen for a federal post, but were surprised by this appointment, saying he rarely speaks on drug enforcement, unlike his platforms on gun control and community policing.
But last fall, they said, Kerlikowske began working on drug-policy reforms for street users in certain neighborhoods.
He recently gave his blessing to a pilot program in drug-plagued Belltown for officers to send drug users to treatment or job centers instead of jail. He gave his support to similar programs already operating in Rainier Beach and Madison Valley.
According to Scott Morgan at Stop the Drug War:
To be clear, Kerlikowske is not a friend of drug policy reform to any extent I’m aware of. What matters here is that I see no evidence that he is a vicious drug warrior of the sort commonly associated with the drug czar post. Given that ONDCP is mandated to oppose reform efforts and has typically embraced that role, a less confrontational and reefer madness-driven drug czar is really the best case scenario from a drug policy reform perspective.
Under Kerlikowske, Seattle has been a model for sensible marijuana policy, including the famous Seattle Hempfest at which the Seattle Police Department performs a public safety role while declining to make marijuana arrests. Following the passage of a 2004 lowest priority initiative, the city’s already-low rate of marijuana prosecutions fell even further, suggesting that Kerlikowske was responsive to the will of voters.
Jeralyn at Talk Left wonders whether this is change we can believe in:
So we could have done worse. Is that the new standard for someone we elected because he promised progressive change? "We could have done worse" is a phrase I associate with Republican appointments that weren't disasterous. Should we expect more from Obama?
For myself, though, like Pete Guither at Drug War Rant,
what I'm most interested in is what the new drug czar might not do. It would be nice if he didn't show up at state legislatures trying to prevent them from passing state laws regarding medical marijuana or decriminalization. It would be nice if he didn't go out of his way to lie to the press all the time about marijuana. It would be nice if he didn't travel around the country acting as an advance salesman for drug testing companies.

These are things that a new drug czar could legitimately fail to do. And that would be a good thing.

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